Arlene J. Anderson
Tell me why the road keeps turning when everything I want is straight ahead. — Sheryl Crow "Nothing can go wrong," says Knut, my Norwegian cousin, as I board a city bus in Oslo during a recent visit. A shadow of doubt creeps into my head. I want to believe everything will be fine, but experience has taught me not to assume.
Here are some things to wonder about when you can't get to sleep: Did cannibals use cutlery? Why do the British put their toast on racks? Why do men in Ecuador dress up as women on New Year's Eve? Why don't Norwegians use traffic signs to say what the speed limit is? What Duluthian habits are mysterious to people who visit us? Travel has taught me many things, but as much as I've learned, I'm still amazed at the multitude of curious things to ponder.
Reaching into my backpack, I notice it right away. "My cash and debit card ... they're gone!" I am in Latacunga, Ecuador, on my way to an eco-lodge for a weekend with friends. This is certainly going to change some plans. A closer inspection reveals two slashes have been neatly cut into my backpack. This was the work of pros. Despite my experience and savviness as a world traveler, sometimes things happen.
We were an hour late and it was already dark. My companion and I burst through the entrance of the pizza restaurant and hurried over to the table where our friend, Clare, waited for us. In our excitement, words came spilling out about our day in the mountains of Ecuador: "Carlos drove forever and the gas gauge didn't work! We were afraid we'd run out of gas!" "The roads looked like goat paths, rocky and bumpy with huge dropoffs! There were hundreds of S-curves ... " "My seat in the back wasn't secure.
"Esta rosa es Pink Floyd," says Roberto Gines, a 34-year-old Ecuadorian entrepreneur, as he proudly reaches toward a blossom at the end of a 4-foot stem at his rose farm. He's saying, "This rose is Pink Floyd" in Spanish, maintaining the English moniker of the band after whom the roses are named. This is a guy who really knows his flowers. I became acquainted with Roberto and his wife, Emilia, after moving to northern Ecuador a few weeks ago. Our mutual friend, Clare, a Spanish-speaking American starting a nearby ecotourism business, serves as our interpreter for this private tour.
"You are about to enter another world," wrote my friend, Clare, in an email. She had reached northern Ecuador a week before my scheduled arrival. Another world, indeed! Ecuador offers perpetually spring-like weather, readily available bouquets of roses for a dollar and hearty lunches for approximately $3. An additional bonus is that Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar as its currency.
"What will you tell the people about Duluth when you return to India?" I ask Roopesh, an outgoing and personable 28-year-old man from Hyderabad. He has been working contractually at Minnesota Power for the past 18 months. He recently cooked a tasty traditional Indian dinner and invited neighbors to enjoy it as his guests. "Minnesota Nice ... whoever says that, I really agree with them," he replies.
A tall and handsome soon-to-graduate Chinese college student stood next to me as we talked. After a few minutes, he turned to make direct eye contact and hesitatingly admitted in a low voice, “Actually, I hate foreigners.” He was the only student who was late with his assignment at the end of the semester. He was supposed to find an article about cross-cultural management and state his opinion.
“Let’s go have an adventure,” Brad Kutz said to his wife after the economic downturn of 2008-2009. Then, one thing led to another. After working for Cirrus Aviation in Duluth from 2004-2009, Brad went to work as an electrical engineer for a defense contractor in the U.S. before returning to Cirrus Aircraft in early 2012 as director of China engineering and technical support. Over a recent lunch in Zhuhai, China, Kutz, 35, talked with me about his transition to life in an unfamiliar culture.
An elderly couple walks slowly toward me flapping their arms, alternating from side to side, then up and down. A trim middle-aged fellow, comfortably dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, nods at me in greeting as he crosses my path, walking backwards at a brisk pace. These are common scenes on my morning commute here in China. When in Duluth, I enjoy my share of skiing, bicycling, hiking, kayaking and Lakewalk excursions. In contrast to many Americans who purchase expensive gym memberships and snazzy workout wardrobes, the Chinese build a lot of exercise right into their daily lives.